HOUSTON -- When considering some of the key turning points that has contributed to the New England Patriots' dynastic run of success under coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, a defensive play from Brady's first NFL start in 2001 is often highlighted.
Entering the game with an 0-2 record, linebacker Bryan Cox's crushing hit over the middle on Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Jerome Pathon galvanized the Patriots in a 44-13 victory, and it reflected the overall toughness and physicality that the defense showed in its unexpected run to Super Bowl XXXVI. Those were key ingredients in the team's shocking 20-17 Super Bowl victory over the St. Louis Rams.
Fast-forward to the present day, and Cox returns to the Super Bowl for the first time since that lone season he spent in New England. He is now the defensive line coach for the Atlanta Falcons.
"I was in that locker room, and I understand the significance of what it was, and I understand as an unselfish player, you understand how that thing came together," Cox said Wednesday morning of the hit on Pathon. "But at the end of the day, I'm on this side now. I'm trying to beat the Evil Empire, as many would say."
It is an "empire" that Cox played a small but significant part in helping build.
Bryan Cox, who is Falcons' DL coach, dons T-shirt that reads: "The only fight that matters is the one we are in." pic.twitter.com/xMfIQjzSU5
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) February 1, 2017
In the playoffs following that 2001 season, Belichick said of Cox's hit: "I think that set a tone and physical-ness for that game; there was a little electricity to it. It caught and the team ran with it a little bit. So if you had to pick out just maybe one thing, that would probably have to go up there on the list."
Those who spend time around Cox know that "electricity" is an appropriate word to describe how he delivers a message. That was also evident when HBO's "Hard Knocks" followed the Atlanta Falcons in 2014; Cox was featured significantly.
This week, Cox has been asked to revisit his pummeling of Pathon multiple times by various members of New England's large media corps, and his answers haven't been dull.
"I appreciate being given all the credit for one hit that changed everything," Cox said with a laugh. "But at the end of the day, I'm the enemy now. I'm on this side and I'm trying to get the team that pays my check into the mindset and thought process of how we're going to take care of our business. That's what matters to me at this point.
"All the old stuff, all the things that happened 15 years ago or whatever, I'm appreciative of what Bill did for me in my career when he was coordinator with the Jets, when [Bill] Parcells brought me over [to the New York Jets]. But at the end of the day, I'm taking the things he taught me and trying to use it against him."